Tie Yourself in Knots With Rope Puzzles!

rope puzzle rings

What comes to mind when you think of a mechanical brain teaser? Do you think of a puzzle box or linked metal shapes? Do you think of wooden pieces that need to be fitted together to form a particular shape, or the twists and turns of a Rubik’s Cube or sword puzzle?

I would wager that rope isn’t the first puzzle piece that you think of. Which is surprising, because rope is part of plenty of different brain teasers. And they date back further than you’d think.

the seal on king tut's tomb

Check out this tricky tangled knot. This mix of rope and clay guarded the tomb of King Tut for centuries. Experts in rope and knot-tying have identified many of the knots involved, and claim that there’s no way to remove the rope and open the doors without breaking the clay seal depicting Anubis, the jackal-headed god entrusted with the protection of the dead.

Although it’s rare to find rope puzzles like this guarding tombs these days, they still guard other treasures. Like this wine bottle for instance.


This brain teaser serves as a fun (or annoying) way to add a little flavor to a traditional housewarming or holiday gift.

It’s just one example of a wide array of mechanical brain teasers known as disentanglement puzzles.

rope puzzles

These puzzles rely on careful manipulation to make seemingly impossible actions — like passing a rope with a wooden ball attached through a hole too small for the ball — quite simple with clever maneuvering.

And whereas other tangle puzzles that are all metal or all wood are great and offering different challenges, the addition of a rope or two can add a TON of variability and new options to a puzzle. Pieces slide along it, and the rope can be twisted, rolled, or threaded between pieces. This one element triples the possibilities.


As you might expect, rope puzzling has also made the leap to mobile apps.

Games like Tangle Master stick to the disentanglement theme, demanding you untie a number of ropes in a certain number of moves. Later complications include locked ropes you can’t move until other ropes are eliminated, and even bombs that countdown to force certain moves.

Cut the Rope offered a different challenge, requiring solvers to deliver a candy to the waiting mouth of a hungry pet by cutting the rope. Along the way, you’d try to collect stars. The game was a mix of strategy and timing, and I can remember more than a few friends obsessed with this app a long while back.

Where could rope puzzles go from here? Anywhere, really, as long as puzzly minds are out there to try out new ideas.

There are videos online of creative geocaches/letterboxes involving string or rope. I’ve seen them employed in escape room puzzles — once to decode a message, another time to trace a connect-the-dots pattern on a board of nails, and elsewhere to connect two distant objects and hold them in place — and I’m sure that’s not the last I’ve seen of ropes there.

Do any of your favorite puzzles or puzzle apps involve ropes, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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The Art of Metal Brain Teasers

[Disentanglement puzzles, courtesy of Mr. Puzzle Australia.]

When we talk about people creating puzzles, certain standard materials come to mind.

Pen and paper. A computer program like Crossword Compiler. For brain teasers and puzzle boxes, wood is common. Recently, 3-D printers have made it possible to create plastic puzzles the likes of which no one has seen before.

But we rarely talk about metal.

When it comes to disentanglement puzzles, metal is where it’s at. Wood and plastic pieces can flex under pressure, making them more susceptible to a forced solution where one wasn’t intended. But with metal puzzles, you’ve pretty much only got one option: solve it as intended.

Metal brain teasers like those pictured above started out simply, made from twisted nails and used as puzzles in pubs for bar bets. (Some brain teasers made today still mimic the appearance of nails in honor of this rustic style of puzzling.)

They can be basic or complex, depending on how many pieces are involved, but the goal is usually to separate each puzzle into its component pieces.

Of course, these puzzles might look slight when compared to the heavy-duty ones produced by companies like our friends at Tucker-Jones House, whose Tavern Puzzles line combine complexity with artful craftsmanship to create some impressive and daunting puzzles.

Instead of completely dismantling the puzzle, Tavern Puzzles usually have a single element — a ring, a heart shape, a triangle — that you must free from the rest of the metal pieces.

[They have Valentine’s Day-themed puzzles too!]

But when it comes to metal puzzles, it’s hard to top this recent masterpiece by metalsmith Seth Gould.

This is Coffer.

Yes, it looks like a simple chest and key, but as you’ve no doubt figured out, there’s far more to Coffer than meets the eye.

This puzzle took over two years to design and create, and it’s made from iron, steel, and brass.

Every piece was crafted by Gould himself, inspired by designs from between the 17th and 19th centuries, and the puzzle mechanism itself is his own design:

I received a BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing Design, and during the end of my time in school I became interested in forging. In fine metals I found that I worked well with the precision needed to create quality work, and in forging I was drawn to the malleability of the material and the scale in which I could work.

It was not until I visited Musée Le Secq Des Tournelles in Rouen, France shortly after graduation that I realized how those two interests could intersect. The locks and utilitarian objects I saw there were unlike anything I had ever seen, and still influence me today.

Now that is the ultimate in DIY puzzling.

Filmmaker Jesse Beecher chronicled the construction process and has posted a wonderful video on Vimeo that shows how much love and labor went into this marvelous metal puzzle:

Constructors and puzzle designers are continuing to push the envelope when it comes to mind-blowing, beautiful brain-teasing creations, and whether we’re talking paper, wood, metal, or 3D printing, there seems to be no limit to what puzzly minds can bring to life.

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